The winter season is in full force and the flu and other upper respiratory infections (URIs) are particularly aggressive and virulent this year, with many deaths of otherwise previously healthy people of all ages due to organ failure secondary to the flu. The cold, dry air of the winter months mingles with seasonal infections and molds to create a perfect storm that inflicts many with annoying lung conditions. These range from chronic, dry coughs to thick mucus-filled chest congestion, colds, and even the flu. Being proactive about maintaining good lung health and function is very important to make yourself a much less susceptible target for these more virulent infections, such as the flu.
The winter weather has a way of attacking the lungs and keeping people gravitating towards cough suppressants, warm tea, and plenty of blankets. It is not pure coincidence that winter can be unfriendly to our lungs. Cold air is dry air and the lungs are the first organs to feel like a parched land during this dry season. Not only is the outside air hostile, but many homes also have gas-forced furnaces and wood-burning stoves circulating dry air throughout our living spaces. This indoor air quality can often be compromised as furnaces spread mold and dust, and wood-burning stoves spew dirt and soot. To make matters worse, bacterial and viral invaders seem to thrive in colder air, explaining the seasonal increase in colds and flus. No wonder the lungs feel imprisoned during the winter months, longing for their own oasis.
Ginger has a long history of use as a culinary herb and as a beneficial agent for many organs, including the lungs and respiratory tract. Ginger has been
shown to help strengthen the lung’s natural defenses against organisms such as bacteria and viruses. These potential invaders thrive in the cold weather, making our chances for exposure much greater and demanding a strong defense system. Ginger also helps maintain a natural inflammatory response, which is imperative when winter’s foreign invaders such as mold, dust and microorganisms come into contact with our respiratory tract. These invaders can trigger an inflammatory response as the lungs attempt to eliminate them. Cold, dry air can also irritate the lining of the lungs and trigger an inflammatory response, leading to chronic coughing and sore chests. Inflammation is not the only response to this winter battle against dust, dirt, mold and infections.Damaging free radicals come into play; thus, antioxidants are necessary to overcome them. Ginger happens to be a potent antioxidant that can help combat the free radicals generated in the lungs. All in all, ginger is a multi-tasking herb that can support the lungs on various fronts as the colder weather brings multiple challenges to our respiratory tract.
A strong immune system and proper hydration will go a long way in complimenting the actions of these herbs. Immune-supporting nutrients such as vitamins
C, D and E as well as zinc are beneficial adjuncts. Drinking plenty of water and running a home humidifier can help keep the lungs moist and working optimally.Warm beverages such as tea can serve a dual purpose in hydrating the body and providing a warm vapor which, when breathed in, will help moisten the nasal passage. It is also advantageous to keep air contaminants at a minimum by dusting more frequently and cleaning out furnace vents. Air purifiers may be helpful in older homes that are predisposed to mold contamination. During the remainder of this cold season, you may not have to suffer through annoying coughs and tight lungs. Keeping a few helpful herbs on hand, some supportive nutrients, a clean home, and hydrating your body will be the ticket to breathing easier as you wait for the arrival of warmer days.Astragalus is another herb that is well known for supporting the immune system during times when it is stressed. Similar to ginger, astragalus has the unique ability to support a healthy inflammatory response within the lungs as well as provide antioxidant support. Therefore, astragalus can work in conjunction with ginger to support respiratory tissues from the damaging effects of dry air and air contaminants.
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